Is it warm where you are? Some people reading this probably think that question is a cruel joke, as they wipe the sweat off their foreheads. Summer scorchers aren’t a joke, and our goal is to share the names and meaning of what doctors call various heat-related health risks and how to avoid any suffering while the weather is sweltering.
First of all, what defines a heat wave? The challenge of the phrase is that the normal temperature varies so much from place to place that setting a number isn’t very useful. Our most precise definition: “an air mass of high temperature covering an extended area and moving relatively slowly.” Right now a hot air mass is sitting on top of the East Coast without moving. And it’s making East Coast residents not want to move out of air-conditioned rooms.
Hypothermia has become morbidly famous in stories that involve staying alive in freezing weather. Hypo is Latin for “under,” and thermia is Greek for “heat.” This is the condition when frostbite, mental confusion and all sorts of horrible conditions can set in.
Hyperthermia is less recognized than its “hypo” relation, but you are familiar with it as heat stroke. Hyper is Latin for “over,” so hyperthermia is the inability of the body to regulate the amount of heat. If sweating can’t reduce the body’s temperature quickly enough, a fever-like state can occur, along with dehydration, dry skin, nausea, and headaches. The best solution for preventing hyperthermia is drinking large amounts of liquid and staying in the shade.
Edema comes from the Greek oídēma, “to swell.” Ironically, the same desire to remain stationary during a heat wave can contribute to venostasis, slower blood flow, that can lead to heat edema, swelling in the extremities (hands and feet.) This is usually a temporary condition, but if it persists one should consult a doctor.
Heat syncope is basically becoming dizzy or passing out from the heat. A head rush (more formally known as orthostatic hypotension) is caused by a drop in blood pressure that prevents enough blood from getting to the brain.
With all of these heat-based afflictions, the best thing to do is simply avoid the conditions that can cause them. Stay cool, drink lots of water, and stick to the umbra of the most hiemal spot you can find.